Charles wondered, as was discussed in a congregation he knows, whether the hymn struck me as controversial or borderline for inclusion in the new hymnal. After all, verse 4 does sing:
For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live, (Refrain)
It’s a good question.
I’ll remember for many years to come, the Montreat Youth Conference rocking out to it under Eric Wall and Beth Williams’ leadership back in 2011, 1200 voices strong.
Also, Bruce Reyes Chow seems to like it too. He posted on Instagram last week, “This hymn makes me weep pretty much every time we sing it. Add it to “Bourning Cry” on my list of songs I want sung at my funeral — oh, and anything by New Edition.”
But what of Charles’ questions about the perhaps problematic verse about abuser and abused having a place at the table, a need to forgive?
First I must say, abuse of all kinds—especially sexual abuse—is antithetical to the gospel. Churches must strive to be places where victims of abuse feel safe, can claim their voice, and be heard. If, in your community, the hymn doesn’t help that then it’s probably worth considering another instead. Those in positions of power must craft liturgy (including music) very carefully, mindful of all. (Consider, perhaps, the hymn by Ruth Duck “Sacred the Body” as an alternative).
That said, I do think music and hymnody may help us claim a way forward together. A quick thought on hymns of this genre:
I think of “For Everyone Born” and other hymns like it (e.g. “All Are Welcome,” “Here in this Place / Gather Us In”) as aspirational hymns.
By aspirational hymns I mean we, by singing them, aspire to help make their words come true.
To take, “For Everyone Born” as an example. Are our churches truly places where “everyone born” has access to “clean water and bread” (verse 1), or where gender roles are equitable (verse 2), or young and old feel welcome (verse 3), or forgiveness is enacted (verse 4), or fear is stomped out (verse 5)? Of course not! We suck at pretty much every one of those verses.
But that’s why we sing them—to help give us language, to help inspire us, to help push us to be more just. Or, as “For Everyone Born” puts it: to be “creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace.”
Along the same lines, Marty Haugen’s hymn, “Let Us Build a House / All Are Welcome” calls the body, when singing it, to enact the words.
When we sing these “aspirational hymns” we also realize, hopefully, that we have work to do, grace to respond to, God’s love to receive and give.
Those are my quick thoughts in response to Charles’ inquiry. But I’d love to hear your perspective too. Please comment away.